October 25, 2018, 4:23 pm
With over 1,900 species to choose from, Colombia has no shortage of beautiful and unique bird species to satisfy even the most hard-core birders. However, we birders are a greedy lot, never satisfied unless we’re out spotting something new and exciting, and Colombia offers those sorts of birding challenges as well. From tiny hummingbirds back from the brink of extinction, to parakeets thought to already be lost from our world, here are five bird species in Colombia that will make any birder’s heart flutter:
This tiny hummingbird of the high páramos of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta was last seen in 1946, and was assumed to be extinct until, in 2015, two scientists working with ProAves in the forgotten heights of the Sierra rediscovered it, clinging to life on the fringes of glacial lakes at almost 4,000 meters above sea level. Since then perhaps 30 people have ascended to the Sevilla Lakes to see them in the flesh (myself included), and the helmetcrest, with its tiny punk crest and blue beard, is perhaps the most wanted Colombian species there is right now.
This endemic species of grebe – small, diving birds that live on lakes – was last seen in 1977, when three birds were recorded on Tota Lake in the department of Boyacá. The once-abundant grebe – there were still plenty on Tota Lake in 1945, although their numbers had declined to around 300 by 1968 – is assumed to be extinct. However, there are many birders and scientists who still believe it’s possible that the grebe is clinging on in some isolated high-altitude lakes in the Andean páramo. That moment when some birder spots a grebe and sees the distinctive flash of red unique to the Colombian grebe will be international news should it ever happen.
As part of the Global Wildlife Conservation’s “Search for Lost Species” initiative, 25 species were named as ‘the most wanted’ – one of these was the Sinu Parakeet, a spectacular, red-bellied parakeet known only from the Sinu Valley of northern Colombia. Last seen in 1949, it is estimated that as few as 50 individuals could remain, if the bird is not already extinct. However, if this might seem like a hopeless task, remember that 6 of the ‘Lost Species’ on the list were rediscovered last year. Hope remains for the Sinu Parakeet!
Barely anything is known about this species of Brush-finch (shy, stocky birds which prefer to keep to themselves in tangled undergrowth). In fact, it was only scientifically described on the basis of three museum specimens which were labelled as the similar Slaty Brush-finch. The only of the three specimens that was dated was marked as 1971, so it’s been a while since there was a record of this bird. However, if the Helmetcrest can do a Lazarus, then why not the Brush-finch!
I wanted to start and end this piece on a positive note (so many extinct birds!), so the last of the species most wanted in Colombia by birders is the endemic Fuertes’ Parrot. This colourful little parrot was, until 2002, only known from a few museum specimens (are you spotting a pattern here?). However, that same year, it was rediscovered by ProAves in high-altitude montane forest in Genova, in southern Quindio department. It remains extremely rare and threatened, with numbers estimated at around 150 individuals (and declining). The good news for birders is that there are several sites in the Coffee Region where the parrot can be seen relatively easily; the bad news is that it may soon go the way of the Colombian Grebe and Antioquia Brush-finch if not protected soon.
Begin your quest to spot the species mentioned above during one of our Colombia birding tours. Tours last between 1 to 14 days and include many regions in Colombia.
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